With Stars Gone, Ohio State and Michigan Appear Headed in Different Directions

By Kyle Rowland on January 27, 2014 at 9:15a
Where have you gone, Deshaun DiMaggio?

As the New Year approached, Michigan was floundering downhill. After coming within one half of winning the national championship, the Wolverines had to replace the country’s best player in Trey Burke and fellow first-round draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. That gave way to a disappointing 7-4 start to the season.

But the biggest loss came weeks after Michigan nearly beat undefeated and top-ranked Arizona. Soon thereafter, it was discovered Mitch McGary would be out indefinitely due to a nagging back injury. Instead of wilting, though, the maize and blue have rattled off nine consecutive wins without McGary. They’ve positioned themselves as the Big Ten’s front-runner and are poised to break into the top 10. 

Michigan’s last three wins have come against foes ranked in the top 10. Suddenly, spring practice is on the back burner in Ann Arbor.

“I know we beat three really good teams,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “The national stuff? Forget about it. It’s about the Big Ten right now.”

A couple hours to the south, National Signing Day is taking precedence.

As the Wolverines’ season spiraled, archrival Ohio State vaulted out to a 15-0 record and No. 3 ranking. The Buckeyes, coming off a trip to the Elite Eight, were thriving even without the Big Ten’s leading scorer, Deshaun Thomas. But just as quickly as Michigan’s fortunes turned, Ohio State went through an epic nosedive, descending into a four-game losing streak and effectively eliminating itself from Big Ten title contention. 

During the Buckeyes’ slide, they displayed an uncharacteristic brand of basketball. Thad Matta’s 10 years in Columbus have been defined by good defense, sound point guard play and discipline on both ends of the floor. That all disappeared for a two-week stretch.

Last Five Outings
Ohio State Michigan
W, 62–55 vs ILL (1/23) W, 80–75 @ MSU (1/25)
L, 68–62 @ NEB (1/20) W, 75–67 vs IOWA (1/22)
L, 63–53 @ MINN (1/16) W, 77–70 @ WIS (1/18)
L, 84–74 vs IOWA (1/12) W, 80–67 vs PSU (1/14)
L, 72–68 @ MSU (1/7) W, 71–70 @ NEB (1/9)

Ohio State’s nation’s-best four consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 is on the verge of ending. The bleeding stopped with an ugly-but-much-needed victory over Illinois. Michigan, meanwhile, was 2 for 2 last week dispatching ranked opponents – Iowa and Michigan State.

The latter came on the road in one of the sport’s most hostile environments. Sure, the Spartans were without two starters. But Michigan was down three significant pieces from last season’s sprint to April, and they overcame an eight-point deficit to win by five.

“This is one step in the right direction with a long way to go,” Beilein said.

The rise from 7-4 to 15-4 – and 7-0 in the Big Ten – begins and ends with players seizing the moment. No one has done that more than sophomore guard Nik Stauskas. The sharpshooting Canadian is averaging 18.5 points per game this season and 22.6 the past three games. He’s 12 for his last 24 from long range, and Stauskas hit game-changing shots in all three wins.

Fellow sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Caris Levert provide a combined 25.5 points each night. The latest emergence for the Wolverines is freshman Derrick Walton Jr., who scored 19 points against Michigan State and connected on nine of 10 free throws.

For Ohio State, LaQuinton Ross is the leading scorer many thought he would be. But he doesn’t have the same “it” factor that Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger and Thomas possessed before him. Amir Williams still isn’t as dependable a big man as the Buckeyes need, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. lacks a consistent shooting touch to be the No. 2 guy. For all the defense Aaron Craft provides, he still hasn’t been able to hammer down shooting woes that have plagued much of his career.

“I would say, Jared Sullinger and your Deshauns, those guys had a knack for somehow, someway of finding a way [late in games], via the free-throw line or getting inside the defense, to score,” Matta said.

Still, the Buckeyes have one of the best defenses in the country. Up north, Michigan has arguably the most efficient offense. The Wolverines’ points per game haven’t dipped without Burke and Hardaway (and McGary), they’re turning the ball over less and have essentially the same assist numbers.

“We heard it and all throughout the summer. That’s what motivated us all to work hard,” Stauskas said. “We knew we were losing that talent and that people thought we couldn’t do it. We’re just trying to work as hard as we can and get better every day.”

Daily improvement is also the focus for Ohio State, if for nothing else to keep interest until spring football.


Comments Show All Comments

Stormy9969's picture

Good article Kyle. 
I dislike even talking about TTUN but think Beilein is undervalued as a coach and recruiter.  What keeps them playing at such a high level is a good group of core players like Stauskas, Robinson, and Levert.  Most importantly they can shoot the rock from beyond the arc and pull the defense away from the basket, opening up penetration and easy lay-ups. 
The B1G is the best conference once again my friends.

Colonel "Storm" Peterson

NitroBuck's picture

Most importantly they can shoot the rock from beyond the arc and pull the defense away from the basket, opening up penetration and easy lay-ups.

In other words...classic Beilein ball.  His teams did the same thing at WVU, and Richmond before that.

Ferio.  Tego.

Killer nuts's picture

Kyle, are you trying to give me heartburn? You are succeeding

Seattle Linga's picture

Agreed they are playing good ball now but will it last?

Kyle Rowland's picture

I think it will last in the sense that they'll have a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. As previously mentioned, Beilein is a great coach. One of the most underrated in the country, honestly. That said, it's tough to keep this kind of momentum going and I do think Stauskas is going through a special stretch. He's a great shooter and more well-rounded than people give him credit for, but his current performances are not normal. 

Killer nuts's picture

My favorite Stauskas memory...

UrbanCulture's picture

can't believe we lost that game...

73buckeye's picture

I certainly am no expert, but it always appears that good teams seem to be on the verge of putting the other team away in close games. They seem to have a confidence about them that keep them in games when they're challenged. You expect them to get on a run and eventually win the game. For some reason, the Buckeyes appear to be on the verge of collapse, even when they're ahead. You expect the other team to go on a run and the Bucks to stay cold. This group show no team confidence or a leader the other 4 guys on the floor can depend on in the tough spots.  Inconsistent is the kindest thing you can say about Ross and Williams. If they  haven't stepped up by half way through their Jr years, they won't. Craft is a great defender and all around scrapper, but he is a liability on offense unless he's driving to the basket. Loving seems to have some real potential, but depending on a freshman to lead your offense isn't practical. As much as people love the 3 point shot, I think an efficient offense starts from the inside. Post Sellinger, this team has no one that can control the lane and kick the ball out for the jumpers. Till they find someone that can, this team isn't going anywhere.  


NitroBuck's picture

As much as people love the 3 point shot, I think an efficient offense starts from the inside. Post Sellinger, this team has no one that can control the lane and kick the ball out for the jumpers.

Good point about offensive efficiency.  As undersized as Deshaun Thomas was, he really could mix it up inside surprisingly well.  The Buckeyes miss that ability badly, along with Ravenel playing solid interior D as a backup.  That has been a glaring problem this season anytime Amir Williams steps off of the court.

Ferio.  Tego.

740Bucks's picture

CBB is a long season & some teams peak early... some mid-way... and some at the right time. I'm just hoping the Buckeyes get it figured out. Thad seems to get his teams playing well in when March rolls around. B1G is solid & flaws get exploited every game!
Side note> How 'bout this weather eh? How many days 'til the spring game :)

"My idea of a good hit is when the guy wakes up on the sidelines with train whistles blowing in his head." - Jack Tatum

gm3jones's picture

I STILL don't give a damn for the whole state of _ichigan

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

Bamabucknut's picture

I'm concerned about our coaching ....... their teaching and recruiting
-we cannot  recruit 5 star players that want to stay for more than one basketball season(not even a full school year)
-we have a starting squad of junior and seniors(which we have not had for some time) that has not continued to advance their skills .
Every team has their up years and down years. This I believe.....will unfortunately be far from an up year.
yes...I'm really tired of being so negative.

lax20's picture

I hear you and feel your pain.  I have said some of the same negative statements to only be bashed.  A true fan says it like it is and saves the cheerleading to others.  The cheerleader in me hopes you are wrong, but the fan side says you are right.

JOhio1560's picture

Nice read. It's 10:58 and no matter what anybody says, michigan still sucks. 

I'm not finished!  Before we let you leave, your commander must cross that field, present himself before this army, put his head between his legs, and kiss his own arse.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

The Sweet 16 streak is not "on the verge of ending".  OSU went into a slump.  They started to get out of it against Illinois, and things will continue to get better.  If they can get back to the ball they were playing before the slide, they'll be back in the Sweet 16 again. 

Class of 2010.